YOUTH ADVOCATES ISSUE JOINT STATEMENT ON GOVERNMENT INDUSTRIAL SCHOOL CONCERNS & #PROTECTOURGIRLS CAMPAIGN

As youth advocates fiercely committed to our respective mandates, we feel obligated to add our voices to the growing concerns being expressed in relation to the state of affairs at the Government Industrial School (GIS). We refer in particular to the newspaper and radio accounts of the institution’s Deputy Chairperson, Marsha Hinds-Layne, which describe alarming conditions as well as a number of child rights’ violations. Since her public revelations, quite a few other similar accounts have surfaced which have collectively prompted this joint statement.

We are aware that organisations such as the National Organisation of Women (NOW), BPW Barbados and Soroptimist International of Barbados have long dedicated time, effort and resources to many of these concerns through advocacy, volunteer initiatives, and the preparation of various reports. We, therefore, do not propose to duplicate these efforts. Instead, we wish to use our respective youth platforms to amplify the urgent call to action currently being made. In this connection, we have already began to mobilise around the incident reported in the 14th March, 2021 edition of the Sunday Sun newspaper, as well as several others that have not been fully ventilated publicly, using the hashtag #ProtectOurGirls . This was done across multiple social media platforms in an effort to coordinate public discourse on juvenile justice reform, to increase awareness and build mainstream support for the marginalised youth impacted. We are also actively supporting a petition titled “Protect Our Youth” initiated by Nia Brathwaite and a Letter Writing Campaign addressed to the Ministry of Home Affairs, Information and Public Affairs that continues to develop among our youth.

Protecting the most vulnerable within our society such as women, girls, and marginalised youth is of paramount importance. For this reason, we must act now. Not only because of the severity of the reported case, but also because it is allegedly not an isolated incident. Habitual violations of trust must be addressed with urgency to immediately protect victims and safeguard their physical and mental health.

Through this statement, therefore, we acknowledge and show solidarity with the aforementioned women’s groups that continue to invest time and resources to ensure the safety and development of the young persons at GIS, while advocating for their needs. We also hereby add our voices to the call for a prompt, decisive and transparent government response to the systemic issues and institutional shortcomings of Barbados’ juvenile justice system. In particular, based on existing reports and investigations to which we have been privy, we request the following urgent action:

1. complete and immediate abandonment of solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure or part
of the intake process at GIS;
2. immediate closure of the Girl’s Unit of the GIS located at Barrows, St. Lucy; and
3. placement of all eight (8) current residents at Barrows, St. Lucy with their families (or if
necessary a government-run children’s home) with adequate support services for rehabilitation,
including access to formal education, social workers, psychologists etc.
In the longer term, we support the development of adequate facilities at the Dodds, St. Phillip location to serve as a new Girl’s Unit of the GIS and hereby request that new facilities be coupled with a new, more progressive culture of juvenile justice, including:
1. Installation and proper monitoring of fully functional camera and security systems in the Girl’s Unit;
2. Full and transparent investigation, assessment, regrading and training of all staff in rehabilitative techniques to ensure that only competent personnel continue to serve the marginalised youth communities entrusted to this institution and that such staff is subject to greater, more transparent accountability measures;
3. Implementation of governance policies and organisational practices that align with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and guidelines on children deprived of their liberty;
4. Development of a structured educational curriculum approved and overseen by the Ministry of Education, which ensures that residents of GIS leave the institution with the necessary knowledge and skills to reintegrate seamlessly into society;
5. A comprehensive counselling programme that addresses the personal circumstances and socio-economic challenges that both bring children to GIS and may await them when they leave;
6. Full access to holistic health, medical and dental care for all residents of GIS routinely as well as when it may become necessary outside of the standard periodic schedule, with mandatory consultation and/or notification to parents/guardians and the consent of the minor; and
7. Legislative reform to not only remove archaic offences such as wandering but to introduce greater judicial discretion with respect to sentencing and eliminate the criminalisation of persons who are actually victims of crimes committed against them, such as sexual violence and neglect.
We also remain willing and able to work with any member of the public, private or civil society sectors in any way possible to support the swift and permanent resolution of the aforementioned issues.

  • Meghan Theobalds
    CARICOM Youth Ambassador to Barbados
  • Sade N. Jemmott
    Chairperson
    National Youth Policy Coordination Committee
  • UReport by its authorised representative,
    Firhaana Bulbulia
  • Roshanna Trim on behalf of
    Barbados Youth Development Council &
    Pink Parliament
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